Standing against Israel’s occupation of Palestine is the common front that has been adopted by Arab states since the foundation of Israel in 1948.
Arab nations fought against Israel until the end of the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Israel’s peace treaties with Jordan and Egypt have lasted decades but they have always been unpopular in the eyes of Arab society.
Israel’s Zionist end-game plan over Palestinian lands is not over, and Palestinians continue to suffer, however, the rulers of the Gulf states have recently changed their policy toward Israel.
It has been a long time since Tel Aviv abandoned its Periphery doctrine, a foreign policy strategy that was developed by the first prime minister of Israel, David Ben-Gurion, to counteract Arab states who were fighting together against Israel by founding alliances with non-Arab Muslim states in the Middle East, such as Turkey, pre-revolutionary Iran and imperial Ethiopia. Everything is now reversed.
It is certain that the “normalization” of relations with Israel is still unacceptable for the people of the Middle East. That is why some might think that the announcement of normalizing relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a surprising development and a major policy shift. But in fact, the declaration has just stated the obvious, as it was an open secret waiting to be announced.
To be honest, many Gulf leaders have long nurtured secret relations with Israel concerning military cooperation, trade, intelligence sharing and more. Israeli businessmen have frequently flown to Gulf states such as the UAE using foreign passports. Arab states have had to hide all this as the Palestinian cause has been long held in the hearts of their own people, to whom normalization with Israel would mean betrayal. However, they have recently been leaking partial information to the media in regard to several meetings between Gulf and Israeli officials on minor agreements between the two countries in order to get the Arab public used to the idea of a new chapter with Tel Aviv. It looks like the UAE has decided that the right time has now come to declare the secret truth.
According to many, the reason that made Israel and the Gulf states come closer is Iran’s expansionism. That can go for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the leading rival of Iran, or others such as Bahrain, while the UAE’s good relations with Iran are usually overlooked. As a matter of fact, Iran’s main businesses, which are struggling against the heavy sanctions of the U.S., have a major presence in the UAE
For sure, Israel’s principal motivation in an alliance with the Gulf states might be Iran’s activities in the region, but the UAE’s desire is different. As Abu Dhabi stated, its decision to normalize relations with Israel is not directed at Iran.
Actually, the UAE wants to build a concrete axis against Turkey and Qatar. Abu Dhabi probably thought that its long-term campaign of spreading enmity toward other Muslim countries such as Turkey, Qatar and Iran among Arab society would convince them of the merits such a deal with Israel even though the people are not ready to abandon the Palestinians.
Over the last 10 years, the UAE has been meddling in regional affairs from Syria to Libya and the Eastern Mediterranean to counter Turkey. From Africa to the Balkans, it has tried to block Turkey’s diplomatic efforts on a broader scale. The UAE’s yearslong efforts to depict Turkey as a threat to the Arab world aim to make the Arab public believe that it needs a new ally in the region. Apparently, Abu Dhabi thinks that they reached their goal, taking their unilateral hostility toward Turkey a step further.
To recap, former U.S. President Barack Obama’s Middle East policy was a cause for mutual distaste among Israel and Saudi Arabia. The nuclear agreement with Iran that led Tehran to increase its dominance was vehemently opposed by Tel Aviv and Riyadh, but meanwhile, Abu Dhabi enjoyed the growing disagreements between Ankara and Washington. In addition to that, Obama’s distant policy toward Doha satisfied the UAE, which is obsessed with destroying Qatar.
On the other hand, Israel and the UAE’s common concern was the Arab uprisings which stormed the Middle East and North Africa beginning in 2011 and continuing until the counter-revolutions blocked its spread. Supporting a military coup in Egypt and putschists such as Khalifa Haftar in Libya, both the UAE and Israel have worked to prevent a positive change in the Arab world which might have paved the way for democracy in the Middle East.
Pro-Israeli and UAE-funded media have almost had the same coverage, pumping fake news about the Muslim Brotherhood as well as Turkey and Qatar to block the winds of change, while Emirati media also accusing them of betraying Palestine, even though Abu Dhabi was the real betrayer.
All in all, what started to happen then has never happened in history, even when Egypt and Jordan signed the peace agreements with Israel. Cooperation between Israel and the Gulf countries, especially the UAE and Saudi Arabia and with the exception of Qatar, has not been overt, but below the surface, and it has now gone far beyond what it had been at any point in the past.
The crown prince of Abu Dhabi and de facto leader of the UAE Mohammed bin Zayed, also known as MBZ, who is the mastermind of the Gulf politics, was already looking for ways to draw closer to Israel. He has influenced Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), the young, inexperienced and ambitious crown prince of Saudi Arabia, since the death of King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz and mediated between Riyadh and Tel Aviv using their common concern, Tehran.
So, whether wittingly or unwittingly, Obama contributed to the improvement of the relations between Israel and the Gulf countries.
Since Donald Trump was elected as U.S. president, things went back on the right track for Israel and Saudi Arabia. Tel Aviv has resumed its annexation plans in turbo mode. Abu Dhabi, on the other hand, has orientated itself to the new administration’s policies with the help of Jared Kushner, the son-in-law and senior adviser of Trump.
When the Trump administration recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and Syria’s Golan Heights as part of the Jewish state, the outcry of the Gulf states was weak. When Trump announced its so-called “Deal of the Century” plan, they were silent. Now, the U.S. and UAE are marketing the establishment of full diplomatic ties with Israel by saying that the deal requires Israel to halt its plan to annex the occupied West Bank. However, it is just a “temporary hold” at the request of the U.S., as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insists.
None of this reflects the thoughts and feelings of Arab society. The Palestinian issue has never gone away from their minds and hearts.
However, it is no longer at the forefront of the autocratic Gulf leaders’ interests. If the Gulf states were democratic countries, no Arab leader would dare to “normalize” the relations with Israel as they would fear the response of their people. That is why Israel prefers its neighbors to not be democratic, and this serves just the Jewish state’s and the Gulf leaders’ interests.